Wednesday, February 29, 2012

State Indirectly Funding War on Sotheby's?

During the Vietnam war era, the US Government funded a "secret war" in Cambodia. Now, is the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center indirectly funding a not so secret war against Sotheby's Auction House?

Heritage Watch, an archaeological advocacy group with a focus on Cambodia, has been at the forefront of a recent campaign against Sotheby’s. See http://art-crime.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-does-lack-of-provenance-indicate.html
And http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/arts/design/sothebys-caught-in-dispute-over-prized-cambodian-statue.html?pagewanted=1

At the same time, Heritage Watch has received funding from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center:
See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/09/eca-ambassadors-fund-awards-22-million.html and http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/09/cambodian-import-restrictions-extended.html

Is State indirectly funding the archaeological lobby’s war on Sotheby’s? If so, it would be consistent with State's ongoing funding of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, which has been at the forefront of lobbying for a clamp down on collectors of ancient coins and other artifacts from Cyprus.

Loot Busters

Dorothy King and Culture-Concierge.com have unveiled a website designed to help identify likely looted material. For more, see http://www.lootbusters.com/

The website is built some basic principles: images accessible to all, no agenda, and no strings attached. As such, it is a welcome change from the usual finger wagging.

Cambodian Cultural Property Fracas Again Shows Appeasment Leads to Escalating Demands

Leaving aside the merits of Cambodia's claim to a valuable statue that was to be auctioned off at Sotheby's, this latest fracas in the cultural property wars again suggests appeasing the archaeological lobby does little but encourage escalating demands. For more, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/arts/design/sothebys-caught-in-dispute-over-prized-cambodian-statue.html

If Sotheby’s thought hiring a former prosecutor who has developed strong contacts with the archaeological community would win friends and influence people within the archaeological community, it was wrong.

Also, if anyone thinks 1970 provides a safer harbor to repatriation claims, the archaeological lobby's recourse to a 1925 law to press this claim also suggests that 1970 may not be the "safe harbor" date the archaeological community initially claimed as well.

Yes, appeasement leads to little but escalating demands for more.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Odyssey Marine: Carriage of Coinage Rules

While the archaeological community has pitched Spain's win in the Odyssey Marine Case as win for archaeology over the commercial exploitation of shipwrecks, the decision was in fact narrowly based on the fact that a Spanish warship carried the treasure, i.e., archaeological arguments were not result determinative.

Indeed, if anything, the decision is a defeat for repatriation in a broader sense; in awarding the treasure to Spain, the U.S. courts also turned down Peru's claims to the treasure largely based on the moral argument that Colonialist Spain stole it from the Peruvian people.

Spain to Peru: It's Not About the Money, Really

Spain has rejected Peru's claims to the treasure retreived from the Black Swan wreck. According to the Washington Post,

On Thursday, the Peruvian government made an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block transfer of the treasure to give Peru more time to make arguments in U.S. federal court about its claim to being the rightful owner. But that appeal was denied Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Peru had argued the gold and silver on the ship was mined, refined and minted in its territory, which at the time was part of the Spanish empire.

But Carmen Marcos, deputy director of Spain’s National Museum of Archaeology, said Monday the coins were minted not just in Peru but also in Bolivia, Colombia and Chile. And the whole affair involved in claiming the coins was not about monetary value but rather history, she added. “These coins are not money. They are archaeological pieces,” she told reporters.

For more, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/spain-rejects-peruvian-claim-to-shipwreck-treasure/2012/02/27/gIQAFFcfdR_story.html

While this statement will no doubt warm the hearts of archaeologists everywhere, one would hope cash strapped Spain (which is only a little better off than Greece) will consider selling most of the coins after they are properly cleaned and recorded. If the coins really are worth $500 million as reported, why hoard them instead of using proceeds from their sale for the public good?

The Black Swan Wreck and the Untold Story of the Precedent Upon Which the Federal Court's Decision Was Based

I received an email from the author of "The Hidden Galleon," a book about Spanish shipwrecks on Virginia's Assateague island. He directed me to his blog:

http://www.thehiddengalleon.com/the-sea-hunt-case.htm

It states:

Some say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. No one can tell what story may lie behind a paper facade. Such is the case with the opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Sea Hunt Case handed down in 2000. Two shipwrecks were awarded to Spain. And neither of them were Spanish.

The Sea Hunt case has been used as a battering ram against Odyssey Marine Exploration by the Kingdom of Spain in its effort to recover a purported half billion dollar treasure from the salvage company who brought up not only magnificent treasures and artifacts for the world to see but solved a historical mystery that is centuries old.



Since 2007, when Odyssey filed its claim to 17 tons of what appears to be Spanish treasure, Spain has asserted has a defense to that claim the precedent found in the Sea Hunt case. This was the first time that Spain had entered a claim in a treasure case. Just recently, Spain has argued that since the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal in the Sea Hunt case that Odyssey will be reviewed the same way so they might as well hand over the treasure now. They would like to deny Odyssey rights that are available to them as they pursue equity in the recovery of Spanish treasures. Spain is demanding possession of the treasure before the case has run its full course.

It's author concludes,

This is a perfect example of how our government will sacrifice our own cultural heritage to win a battle against a treasure hunter.

John Amrhein, Jr.



It's well worth reading and deciding for yourself.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Turkey Moves Forward

While Greece is floundering, Turkey is moving forward through a major liberalization of its economy and political life. Now, the Turkish Government also appears to be taking a major step towards rational management of its cultural resources. See http://www.todayszaman.com/news-272221-controversy-over-price-tagging-of--artifacts-continues.html

According to the report,

The changes, which were proposed by the Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets and first announced in the Official Gazette on Jan. 19, dictate that artifacts which are not being used by museums can be valued by a specially formed commission and sold.

Of course, while the Old Guard in the Military has been largely vanquished, the Old Guard in the Turkish Archaeological Establishment fights on:

The head of the ─░stanbul branch of the Archeological Association, Dr. Necmi Karul, told the Vatan daily in comments published on Feb. 18 that the changes undermine the most basic of archaeological principles, namely that any artifact from any period of history is part of a shared culture and should, thus, remain as such. Karul said the main benefactors of the change in the law will be private collectors who will be able to access valuable items, many of which can still be put to equally good use by being passed on to other museums for display or used in universities or other educational institutes for the purposes of teaching.

Yet, even in good times, there is never enough money to properly preserve, study and display everything. And while passing along artifacts to other institutions may sound reasonable and is probably a good idea for some artifacts, generating funds through sales would likely benefit the cultural establishment as whole much better. Of course, deaccession needs to done with due care, but realistically leaving valuable artifacts in storage is nothing but an invitation to theft or loss due to poor environmental controls.

Looking Foolish

Egypt's cultural bureaucracy and more than a few shoot first ask questions later archaeologists and media outlets are looking foolish after a bust for supposed antiquities smuggling unravelled in a big way.

For more, see http://luxortimesmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/02/we-demand-official-apology.html and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/british-couple-released-as-priceless-artifacts-they-were-smuggling-out-of-egypt-turn-out-to-be-cheap-market-fakes-7447085.html

Egypt is desperate for foreign tourists. Stories like this will rightly scare even more away.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Over-regulated America

The Economist Magazine, Feb. 18th 2012, states, "The home of laissez-faire is being suffocated by excessive and badly written regulation."

After reviewing the dismal situation, the Economist suggests,

"America needs a smarter approach to regulation. First, all important rules should be subjected to cost-benefit analysis by an independent watchdog. The results should be made public before the rule is enacted. All big regulations should also come with sunset clauses, so that they expire after, say, ten years unless Congress explicitly re-authorises them.

More important, rules need to be much simpler. When regulators try to write an all-purpose instruction manual, the truly important dos and don’ts are lost in an ocean of verbiage. Far better to lay down broad goals and prescribe only what is strictly necessary to achieve them. Legislators should pass simple rules, and leave regulators to enforce them."

For more, see http://www.economist.com/node/21547789 and

http://www.commongood.org/blog/entry/philip-k.-howard-on-the-need-for-results-based-regulation

A smarter approach certainly needs to be tried with respect to import restrictions on cultural artifacts.

Currently, the US State Department and US Customs apply a one size fits all approach to all artifacts, i.e., the same onerous documentation is required to import the $1o million dollar statue as the $10 coin. Moreover, the regulations restrict artifacts by their "country of origin" or manufacture, giving lip service to the statutory requirement that any restricted artifact must be "first discovered" in and be "subject to the export control" of a specific country. Finally, it was never thought that restrictions would be renewed over and over again every five years. Rather, the point of the governing legislation was to give source countries time to get their own house in order, not to forever ban imports of cultural goods from a given country.

Instead, why not target restrictions better, get rid of the one size fits all approach, and sunset restrictions after giving source countries a reasonable time to get their act together?

It should be about conservation not control. The current system has failed because the real costs to our museums, collectors and businesses that deal in cultural goods are not factored into the equation whatsoever. Instead, it's all about making foreign cultural bureaucracies "look good" rather than really encouraging them to "do good" for their own cultural treasures and citizens.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Artificial Deadlines

The archaeological leaning blogs are taking the new Getty Museum chief, Dr. Timothy Potts, to task because he was one of the AAMD principals behind adoption of the prior 10 year rolling "provenance" date for accessions. See http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2012/02/timothy-potts-problem-hasnt-gone-away.html
and http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2012/02/culturegrrl_qa_with_incoming_g_1.html

Yet, the recently adopted 1970 date is an artificial construct solely based on the vintage of the UNESCO Convention. The only reason the AAMD adopted it was due to pressure from the archaeological lobby.

But what has the AAMD and its members received in return? Long term loans? Not without paying the substantial costs associated with them, including transportation, insurance and restoration fees. Check Spelling

And how does this really fit with the mission of museums to preserve artifacts for future generations if they are not able to accession many artifacts just because they lack a documentary history stretching back to 1970?

And has adoption of this rule staunched looting in source countries? As Potts suggests, of course not.

Peru to Supreme Court: Spain Stole It First!

Peru has asked the Supreme Court to put a hold on the return of sunken treasure found by Odyssey Marine to Spain. See
http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpps/news/local/region_1/peru:-spain-stole-it-first-odyssey-02222012_18164227

US Courts have ordered Odyssey Marine to return the treasure because it was found in a sunken Spanish warship.

Peru wants the Courts to turn the treasure over to it, because it was stolen from the country by Spanish colonialists.

Shouldn't the ardent repatriationists of the archaeological community support Peru over dastardly Spain? Surely if they pushed for Yale to return study artifacts from Machu Picchu, they should root for Peru in its efforts to take back what they are due from whatever source. Or, is their ire selectively employed against American companies and institutions?

Perhaps "finders, keepers" is the best rule after all.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Egyptian Antiquities Minister: We've Got Things Under Control

Egypt's current antiquities minister is quoted as stating,

"All the warehouses of antiquities are fully secured, noting that only 2 percent of the artifacts were stolen during the state of lawlessness which prevailed in the country, he added."

http://allafrica.com/stories/201202211274.html

If so, where is the "emergency" that has prompted all the lobbying from the archaeological community and the sole source contract to ICOM to prepare a "Red List" of Egyptian antiquities that are supposedly at risk?

Extralegal Import Restrictions Discussed

A discussion about extralegal import restrictions on coins took place at the recent ACCG gathering conducted during the New York International Coin show. See http://www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?ad=article&ArticleId=24783

Import restrictions under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act were meant to be narrowly tailored to protect archaeological sites in specific countries. Unfortunately, due to the extralegal activities of State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological lobby, these restrictions have instead morphed into grossly over broad import bans on whole categories of ancient coins regardless of their find spots.

As such, these extralegal restrictions appear designed to suppress the trade as a whole so that cultural bureaucrats in source countries and their allies in the archaeological lobby can monopolize the study and preservation of even the most common artifacts from the past. That was not the intent of the CPIA. It was instead meant to balance all interests, including those of the trade and collectors.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Egypt in Crisis: Clamp Down on Pro-Democracy NGOs Derails Clamp Down on Collectors?

The Egyptian Military Dictatorship's decision to put Americans associated with pro-Democracy NGOs on trial may have derailed efforts to orchestrate emergency import restrictions on Egyptian cultural goods at least temporarily.

The roll-out of the new State Department funded Red List has occurred without the usual hoopla, except for this one post from a lawyer and former prosecutor who formally served as SAFE's Vice President:
http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com/2012/02/egyptian-red-list-now-available.html

And no wonder. While the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has been funding efforts of the archaeological lobby to justify import restrictions on behalf of the Egyptian Military Dictatorship with a sole source contract to prepare this "Red List," the higher ups at State have threatened to suspend all aid to Egypt over the jailing and threatened trial of Americans associated with pro-Democracy NGOs. See
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/world/middleeast/trial-of-americans-in-egypt-shakes-nations-ties.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Egypt&st=cse

Cultural policy is a reflection of other government policies. In Greece, rational management of cultural resources has been hampered by over regulation, corruption and gross underfunding. Egypt's cultural policy suffers from the same ills along with an absolutely Pharaonic view of government control over the past. So why does the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, its Cultural Heritage Center and the archaeological lobby continue to subsidize and cheer for such corrupt and unfair systems?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Respected Greek Newspaper Suggests New Approaches Needed

While archaeologists remain in denial and even hostile to any suggestion that there must be a rethink of the status quo, here is what the Telegraph has reported about what a respected Greek paper has said about the situation:

With Greek morale at rock bottom, the national mood darkened yet further after armed thieves looted a museum on Friday in Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, and stole bronze and pottery artefacts - just weeks after the country's National Gallery was burgled.

One Greek newspaper suggested the state could no longer properly look after the nation's immense cultural heritage. "The Greek state has gone bankrupt, let's face it," the conservative daily Kathimerini said in an editorial.

"If the state cannot guard the country's great cultural heritage for financial or other reasons it must find other ways to do it."

See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9091021/Germany-drawing-up-plans-for-Greece-to-leave-the-euro.html

When are we going to hear ideas from the archaeological community other than more bail outs of the bankrupt cultural establishment in Greece and more clamp downs on collectors, dealers and museums?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Time for a Major Rethink in Greece

Greece's financial meltdown has prompted calls for its economy to be liberalized by cutting back on excessive government regulations and ending state subsidies for connected insiders.

While the archaeological blogosphere remains in denial, it's time for those without a vested interest in the status quo to make suggestions on how Greece can turn its current challenges into an opportunity by similarly liberalizing its cultural establishment. Here are some ideas, though I'm sure others will have their own views.

In the Short Run:

  • Deploy the Greek Army to protect archaeological sites and museums.



  • Reduce the cultural bureaucracy. Greece sent a huge delegation to the US to appear at the State Department's CPAC hearing on Greece. (My recollection is there were 12 people there!) Most countries make do with one or two representatives. This confirms for me other complaints that the cultural ministry's upper management is grossly overstaffed.



  • Deaccession and sell off duplicates from museum stores to foreigners and wealthy Greeks.



  • Give tax breaks to individuals that donate money to Greek museums.



  • Require foreign archaeologists to pay a hefty user fee for the privilege of excavating in the country, but as a quid pro quo reestablish the historic practice of partage.



  • Require foreign archaeologists to police their own sites when they are not being actively excavated.

    In the longer term:

  • Establish a legal market for ancient artifacts that can be taxed.



  • Establish a recording system akin to the Treasure Act and PAS.



  • Require developers to pay for the services of archaeologists to undertake salvage excavations on land likely to contain ruins, but then allow the developer to sell what is found after it is recorded, or give them a tax break if the artifact is worthy of going into a museum.

    I'm not expecting any suggestions from the archaeological community other than more clamp downs on collectors, dealers and museums, but perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Friday, February 17, 2012

    Greece in Meltdown; Archaeologists in Denial

    The Greek financial meltdown has led to further cuts in Greece's already poorly funded cultural establishment, and has contributed to an increase of thefts, including a recent break-in at Olympia.

    Here is how the LA Times summarized the problem:

    Greece's economic crisis has left the Culture Ministry desperately short of cash, resulting in a near-shutdown of scores of museums, dwindling archaeological work in various parts of the country and, in some cases, severe cutbacks in security.

    At the National Gallery, the curator acknowledged that although the safety of its collection "is not in peril," budget cuts have scaled back security personnel by about 50% since 2010, leaving the country's biggest storehouse of fine art with just 19 of the 37 guards it employed before the fiscal crisis."If robbers are breaking in here," said Vassiliki Paraschi, a bystander peering up at the gallery's assaulted balcony door, "then I can't imagine what is happening to small museums in remote locations."

    Greece has never been a generous investor in culture. Even in the 1990s heyday of spendthrift policies, Athens allocated just 0.7% of the national budget for the promotion and preservation of Greece's cultural inheritance.

    Now nearly bankrupt, the state has halved that figure to 0.35%, allotting 42% of that — about $173 million — to the operation and security of museums, monuments, monasteries and archaeological sites, according to the 2012 budget.

    Government officials are emphatic, however, that the financial crisis is not taking a toll on the safety of Greece's fine art and antiquities."We made drastic cuts in 2010. We hired no one, not even a single archaeologist," said Lina Mendoni, secretary general of the Culture Ministry.

    "We have now come back, hiring just security personnel to man museums and archaeological sites. Well, doesn't that prove our genuine conviction to safeguarding our cultural heritage?"

    About 1,900 government-paid guards protect more than 15,000 museums, monuments and archaeological sites across the country. Of these, 1,350 are full-time staff members; the rest are either contract employees hired during the peak tourist season or civil servants relocated from state corporations that the government shut down last year in a bid to slash public spending.

    "What am I supposed to do with a 63-year-old mechanic or bus driver who is clueless about antiquity and is just interested in clocking time until retirement?" asked Giorgos Dimakakos, the head guard at the Acropolis, Greece's landmark monument.In recent months, Culture Ministry guards have heightened demands for permanent employment and an exemption from further austerity cuts, saying the government's Band-Aid solutions to personnel shortages pose grave security and liability risks.

    With poverty levels rising and more than 100,000 businesses shuttered or close to bankruptcy, art and antiquities thefts are up by at least 30% in the last year, said Kouzilos of the special police unit. It's hardly a surprise, then, to see a dramatic increase in small-time hoods and first-time crooks trying to join the ranks of seasoned art thieves."

    About 95% of the names coming in from our informants are newcomers," Kouzilos said. "Not a single one of the arrested had a euro to show for [their troubles].

    All were in financial ruins."In one of the most high-profile cases last year, police arrested a trio of smugglers trying to sell artifacts that included 6th century BC helmets, gold funerary masks and part of an iron sword linked to the dynasty of Alexander the Great. Only one of the gang members had a record in antiquities smuggling; the others were bouncers newly fired from a nightclub in northern Greece.

    As the recession deepens, police expect art and antiquities crime to rise, but there is a silver lining."The more amateurs join in, the easier it is to nab them," Kouzilos said.

    See http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-greece-antiquities-20120212,0,3742515.story

    Yet, it's business as usual in the archaeological blogosphere. Bash the collectors and museums. Call for more repatriations. No one has much as suggested that the real problem facing Greece might be gross underfunding, bureaucratic incompetence, and corruption combined with excessive state controls on everything and anything old.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Athens Coin Collections Under Attack

    It appears that Greece's two major coin collections, those of the Alpha Bank and National Numismatic Collection, were subject to attack during the recent spate of rioting, but they are probably safe for now.

    First, the ground floor of the Alpha Bank was set ablaze, but hopefully the coin collection on the eight floor of an adjacent building is still secure.

    Second, there was also apparently an attack on the Government Numismatic Museum in the old Schliemann mansion, but hopefully the collection is safe behind security.

    Recently, the State Department Bureau of Educational Affairs and US Customs imposed import restrictions on undocumented ancient Greek coins. Any coins that are forfeited under these regulations will go back to an uncertain future in Greece.

    Archaeological bloggers remain in a state of denial about the implications of all this. And the State Department and US Customs presumably could care less about what they have wrought.

    ACCG Posts Link to Appellate Brief

    Here is a short synopsis of and link to the reply brief my firm filed in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing for the reversal of the District Court's dismissal of the ACCG's test case concerning import restriction on ancient coins: http://www.accg.us/News/Item/ACCG_Brief_filed_in_U_S_Court_of_Appeals.aspx

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Law 360 on ACCG Test Case

    Law 360 published this story on the ACCG Appeal yesterday:

    Law360, New York (February 14, 2012, 8:19 PM ET) -- The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild on Monday urged the Fourth Circuit to revive its lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the seizure of ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins the guild said couldn't be traced to illicit excavations in either Cyprus or China.

    ACCG filed a 36-page reply brief arguing for a reversal of a trial court's Aug. 2009 decision to throw out its lawsuit — which targeted defendants including Customs and the U.S. Department of State — and seeking to have the matter remanded for further proceedings.

    “Despite the government’s efforts to cast this dispute as one about diplomatic relations, the guild only seeks judicial review of import restrictions on ancient coins,” said the ACCG's brief.

    The case, lodged in Maryland federal court in February 2010, was filed following the seizure of more than 20 ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins the ACCG imported from London in 2009. The guild argued that it should not be assumed that a coin was stolen or illegally shipped because the owner was unable to show a chain of custody beyond a receipt from a reputable source.

    The government said that no judicial review of the plaintiff's claims was available and that even if it was, the ACCG had not stated a claim for relief.

    U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake granted the government's dismissal bid, and said, among other things, that actions taken pursuant to delegated presidential authority under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act weren't subject to review under the Administrative Procedures Act.

    Congress enacted the CPIA in 1983, authorizing the president to enter into agreements with other countries to limit the importation of objects of archaeological interest and cultural significance.

    The U.S. entered into such deals with Cyprus and China in July 2007 and January 2009, respectively, limiting the importation of ancient coins minted in the countries.

    In Monday's brief, the ACCG said that the trial court had a duty to conduct a judicial review of the government's decisions to slap import restrictions on collector's coins. Such import restrictions should only be imposed in line with the substantive and procedural restraints on executive found in the CPIA, the guild added.

    The government made missteps like imposing import restrictions on coins without regard to their “find spots” and ignored evidence that Chinese and Cypriot coins circulated widely beyond their place of manufacture, said the ACCG.

    “We believe that some sort of judicial review is warranted, whether it be under the ultra vires analysis or the APA,” said Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC's Peter Tompa, an attorney for the ACCG. He added that whether or not the government had applied the “first discovery” rule properly was a key issue in the case.

    One of the CPIA's requirements is that the object has to have been discovered in the country entering into the agreement with the U.S.. The ACCG argued that the government needed to show that the coins it seized were first discovered in Cyprus or China.

    Customs spokeswoman Erlinda Byrd declined to comment on the case Tuesday.

    The ACCG is represented before the appeals court by Peter Tompa and Jason Ehrenberg of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC.The case is Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al., case 11-2012, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [sic].

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Your Tax Euros at Work

    The archaeological blogs are all agog over the news that the EU funded European Research Council has given a 1 million Euro grant to some well known academics with an axe to grind against collectors to sharpen their axe further.

    The publicity for the grant does not suggest anything that even remotely resembles academic detachment. For more, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/scotland-blog/2012/feb/13/glasgow-team-gets-1m-grant-to-study-illegal-trade-in-antiquities and http://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/news/4128514/Saviour-of-the-Lost-Ark.html

    Under the circumstances, the European Research Council should be embarrassed if its goal really is to fund high quality research into pressing issues, particularly given the tremendous financial problems facing cultural establishments in countries like Greece and Italy. I suspect the money could be better spent helping these countries take care of what they already have rather than to fund yet another study which will just be used to justify more repatriations.

    As it is, by the looks of it, this study will have about as much credibility as one funded by big Pharma to justify sales of a new drug, no one actually needs. It is, however, part of a trend. Get a governmental entity to fund an anti-collector study by academics with an axe to grind, and use it to help justify further government action and spending on cultural bureaucracies. Other recent examples include the sole source contract to ICOM to prepare the Egyptian Red list.

    Perhaps a governmental entity should fund a study on the damage caused by development, corruption, underfunding, and inept management of cultural resources. Or, what about another about how collectors help preserve and study the past without any government funding whatsoever. Not likely though, as such studies would be an anathema to the nanny state.

    For more about the European Research Council, see http://erc.europa.eu/about-erc

    Note: There seems to be some confusion in the sources as to whether the grant is for 1 million Euros or 1 million UK Pounds. In any event, this is a lot of money for such a study. By comparison, if memory serves the cost of administering the Portable Antiquity Scheme for an entire year is not a lot more.

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Athens Burns

    Rioting has erupted in Athens over the austerity measures the country now faces. See http://news.yahoo.com/greece-boils-over-120700059.html Apparently, some historic buildings were torched overnight.

    Both the Greek and Egyptian national museums are sited right in the midst of anti-government demonstrations. Yet, as Athens smolders and Cairo seethes with discontent, archaeologists and UNESCO are still advocating returning the return of artifacts to their country of origin no matter how unstable or underfunded they might be.

    In insurance parlance, this is called "concentration risk," and it is not a good thing if the actual point is to conserve artifacts. After all, disaster is just one petrol bomb away.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Italian Archaeologist Arrested for Fakery

    The Art Newspaper is reporting that prominent Italian archaeologist Edoardo David has been placed under arrest for suspicion of running a ring that has produced convincing forgeries of antiquities. Apparently, the ring duped an Italian count into trading real antiques for fakes. The Count had hoped to build a museum on the family estate.

    It will be interesting to learn if this story gets any coverage whatsoever on the archaeological blogs that enjoy flogging collectors and museums over any sort of infraction, whether real or imagined.

    Addendum (2-22-12): Here is the above mentioned Art Newspaper article: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Police+raid+criminal+gang+suspected+of+faking+antiquities/25583

    Archaeology Acknowledges Treasure Act (Sort of)

    Archaeology Magazine has publicized a newly discovered Viking coin type of a previously unknown Viking king reported under the UK's Treasure Act. See
    http://www.archaeology.org/1203/artifact/silver_viking_coin_king_airdeconut.html

    Though the circumstances of the coin's discovery are only briefly mentioned and the fact that it was reported under the Treasure Act is not mentioned at all, it is interesting that the AIA's Magazine is publicising the discovery of an artifact not found in professional archaeological excavations, and under a system of cultural preservation that has be criticised by elements within the archaeological community.

    Islamic Mob Smashes Buddhas

    An Islamic mob has smashed historic statutes of Buddha in the National Museum of the Maldives apparently because they saw them as idolatrous. See
    http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/02/08/193376.html

    The attack was reminiscent of the Taliban's assault on Buddha statues, large and small, in Afghanistan.

    This should again give pause to those who reflexively believe that all artifacts should be returned to their country of origin.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Can a Coin Save a Ship?

    The Spanish-American War is often considered to mark the beginning of the ascent of the United States as a world power. Yet, that war is little remembered today, and now one of the few artifacts that remains from that period is in danger of being lost too.

    The Protected Cruiser Olympia served as Admiral Dewey's flagship during the battle of Manila Bay, and in 1921 brought the body of the "unknown soldier" back from France, but efforts to preserve her have been marred by a lack of money, mismanagement and even fraud over the years. See http://www.csmonitor.com/From-the-news-wires/2010/0907/USS-Olympia-one-of-a-kind-steel-cruiser-battles-for-survival and http://www.phillyseaport.org/ships_olympia.shtml

    A bill has been introduced in Congress to provide for the striking of commemorative coins to help fund a refurbishment, but it is unclear whether the bill will pass or the ship will survive economic realities.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    Chinese Cultural Bureucrats Okay Demolition of Cultural Preservationists' Home

    The Chinese cultural bureaucracy has approved the demolition of the historic home of a U. Pennsylvania educated couple who were early advocates of cultural preservation within China. See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/world/asia/in-beijing-razing-of-historic-house-stirs-outrage.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=cultlural%20relics&st=cse The home had previously been designated an official "cultural relic."

    One of the loudest critics of American collectors has asserted it is "none of our business" how the Chinese treat their cultural patrimony. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2012/02/us-state-department-helps-ship-auction.html

    But, if so, perhaps it's not really about conservation, but control, as far as the archaeological community is concerned.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    US State Department Helps Ship Auction House Jobs to China

    The time was that Sotheby's and Christies did a lot of auction business involving ancient and modern Chinese art. These started as historic UK companies, but now they have large establishments in NY. Now, however, Chinese auction houses have begun to dominate the trade in part due to the monopoly afforded them in sales of Chinese artifacts by both the Chinese and US Governments. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15933291

    Isn't this more evidence that the State Department's MOU with China has done little but helped Chinese auction houses monopolize the trade in ancient art?